Reality TV star searching for 'Diamond in the Rough': MTV's Syrus Yarbrough brings quest for a jewel to Soldotna hotspot

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010

International casting director and former MTV reality TV star Syrus Yarbrough said he was looking for a diamond in the rough. That's why he was holding a reality TV casting party at Hooligans Saloon in Soldotna last Thursday.

"People think in their minds they've got to be in a big city. But no," Yarbrough said. "I need people who can carry the camera."

And he should know. Yarbrough was on MTV's "The Real World: Boston" and several episodes of the network's spin-off "Real World/Road Rules Challenge."

Thursday was his first casting trip to Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula.

Several hopefuls showed up to chat with Yarbrough on the fuzzy red couch in the back room of Hooligans. Across the room, cameras were set up to capture the interviews on film.

"I have casting parties because people are more comfortable in a party environment," he said. "It tricks people into being themselves."

Austin Struthers, 19, of Soldotna, seemed a little nervous during his screen test. But he was trying not to be.

When Yarbrough asked him to take off his shirt for the camera, he hesitated and then stripped.

"I'll take my shirt off for television," Struthers said. He stood bare-chested for a moment before re-dressing and continuing with the interview.

"The fact that you're willing to do that tells me you're ready to be on television," Yarbrough said.

He was casting for five reality TV positions last week for four shows, he said, including two dating shows, one extreme dating show and one extreme sports show.

Struthers also sang for Yarbrough and the camera. He closed his eyes and got into his vocal expression.

He said the whole experience was "exciting."

"Even though it was a little out of my comfort zone I decided to try it."

His friend, 22-year-old Erica Zumwalt originally wasn't going to try out, but after a little persuasion she got up on the couch beside Yarbrough and treated him to her famous "lip roll trick." She tapped her cheek and rolled her lips from side to side.

Another wanna-be reality TV star, Jason Maier, 26, of Soldotna, danced for Yarbrough.

Maier said it's his "super dream" to be on reality TV, but he would prefer to be on the VH1 show "Tool Academy," where men and women are sent to "charm school" for relationships.

"I ain't clamming up for nothing," Maier said during his interview with Yarbrough.

Yarbrough said he was seeking people of all shapes, sizes and colors that were comfortable in their own skin, and in front of the camera.

"Good reality TV is someone that is secure with themselves and can share," he said. "There's nothing like people being true to themselves."

And at least one prospective TV personality was there to try to save Alaska's reputation.

"Honestly, I don't want the Palins or Jewel to be the only representation of what Alaskans are," said 27-year-old Kenai resident Cody Kniceley. He had the night off from work, put on his kilt and headed down to possibly show living-room America what's up in Alaska.

"It's an opportunity," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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